Cops, cold don't deter day laborers

Man hired Galletti Way worker, got ticketed

By Tim Omarzu
Tribune Staff
November 4, 2003

Gary Stevens was hurting from a few broken ribs this summer. So on Sunday, Aug. 24 when the Reno man needed to move a queen-size mattress, he headed over to hire someone on Galletti Way, a street on the border of Sparks and Reno that's lined with day laborers.

Stevens said he stopped his car to talk to a prospective mattress-mover when a Sparks police officer pulled up and gave him a $100 ticket for parking in a "red zone." The curb is painted red the entire length of Galletti Way.

" I didn't park. I just stopped there. I didn't even turn the motor off. I'm 51 years old and I've never had a traffic ticket in my life," said Stevens, who plans to fight the ticket on Nov. 12 in Sparks Municipal Court.

The issue of ticketing people along Galletti Way blew up a couple years ago. Sparks wrote an anti-solicitation ordinance to reduce what officials said was the traffic hazard there. But city police were instructed not to enforce the ordinance after it came under fire from workers' rights and civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued people should not be punished simply for seeking employment.

Commander Ken Lightfoot of the Sparks Police Department's Patrol Division said officers haven't been instructed to ticket people hiring workers on Galletti Way.

"No directive has been made one way or the other to our officers. I'm guessing (the officer who ticketed Stevens) felt there was an issue there and took some action," Lightfoot said.

" I do know that we have a problem with people stopping in the street there," Lightfoot said.

Tom Stoneburner is the director of the Alliance for Workers' Rights, the Reno-based group that spearheaded the battle against Sparks' anti-solicitation ordinance. Stoneburner hadn't heard of police doing a crackdown on Galletti Way, but his organization will check it out and talk to workers on the street over the next week.

"Who knows, it could be an isolated, one-time thing," Stoneburner said. "The guys on the street haven't told me the cops were taking any kind of unusual action."

Stevens said the officer who ticketed him also took Stevens aside and said, "You know, all you're going to pick up here is a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics."

Stevens took offense at that. He did go ahead and hire a man and paid him $10 to help move the mattress.

"He came home and did a beautiful job," Stevens said.

Copyright © 2003 Daily Sparks Tribune
Used by permission

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Man fined for "parking" on Galletti Way

By Tim Omarzu
Tribune Staff
November 12, 2003

A Reno man ticketed in August for stopping his car on Galletti Way in Sparks to hire a homeless day laborer has to pay $116 and could get four points on his otherwise spotless driving record.

That was the decision of Judge Larry Sage this morning in Sparks Municipal Court in a case involving 51-year-old Gary Stevens versus the City of Sparks.

Stevens, who represented himself, testified he had never had so much as a parking ticket before being ticketed on Aug. 24 on Galletti Way, a street that's regularly lined with people seeking day labor.

Traffic enforcement there has been a flash point of controversy in the past between police who say stopping can be hazardous and workers' and civil rights groups who say people have a right to seek work.

Stevens told the judge that he hadn't even taken his car out of gear when he pulled up to the curb to hire a homeless friend named Pete to help move a mattress.

Sparks Police Officer Richard Laffins testified that the curb along the length of Galletti is painted red and the street is lined with signs that say no stopping, standing or parking. He ticked Stevens for failure to obey a traffic device.

Stevens said that the sign closest to where he parked only said no parking.

"It doesn't say no stopping or standing," he testified, providing a photo of the sign.

But Judge Sage sided with the police and said Stevens was parked, even if Stevens didnít get out of the car, or take it out of gear, or stay there for more than a moment.

" What you did is parking under the law," Sage said. "If a vehicle is not moving in a roadway, with or without a body in it, it's parked."

Stevens seemed befuddled by court procedure and told the judge, "You've got to help me. Iíve never done this before."

However, the city was well-prepared to go to trail against Stevens. City attorney Michael Chiriatti added three charges to the initial ticket of failure to obey a traffic device.

Chiriatti sought to have the judge convict Stevens of obstructing traffic, but Officer Laffins testified that Galletti is fairly wide and there was no other traffic.

Judge Sage cited those reasons for not convicting Stevens on that count.

" It is somewhat wide. There was no other traffic there," he said, explaining he'd give Stevens the benefit of the doubt.

Stevens faces four points for his conviction unless he goes to traffic school, in which case he only will get one point, the judge said. Following the trial, Stevens said he might appeal.

Observing the trial were Tom Stoneburner, President of the Reno-based Alliance for Workers Rights, and Laura Mijanovich, northern Nevada coordinator of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Officer Laffins testified that while ticketing Stevens, he warned him to be careful because some of the people who seek work on Galletti have problems with alcohol and drug abuse.

Stevens maintains that the officer said, "You know, all you're going to pick up here is a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics."

Mijanovich said, "We at the ACLU are concerned with the possibility of a pattern of enforcement that targets those people because of such misguided attitudes."

Copyright © 2003 Daily Sparks Tribune
Used by permission.

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No health insurance for ex-Sundowner employees

By Tim Omarzu
Tribune Staff
November 14, 2003

When the Sundowner Hotel Casino closed abruptly Saturday, Manuel and Lydia Flores didn't only lose their jobs, they lost their health insurance.

The Sun Valley couple worked for years at the Sundowner — Manuel put in 12 years as a change person, Lydia spent almost 11 years as a housekeeper. They each had about $25 a week taken out of their paychecks for health insurance. It provided such things as insulin to Manuel who is diabetic, has heart problems and arthritis. Lydia suffers from arthritis.

But the Sundowner, like most casinos, was "self-insured," or funded its own health insurance plan. So it apparently is exempt from COBRA, the continued health insurance that laid-off employees can pay for.

"Most, if not all, of the gaming companies are self-insured. (The gaming companies') contention is that they don't have to extend COBRA," said Tom Stoneburner, president of the Reno-based Alliance for Workers' Rights.

"So (laid-off employees) don't have access to that safety net," he said.

Stoneburner said he's contacted Sen. Harry Reid's office to see if this loophole in COBRA can be closed.

In the meantime, the Flores are both hoping to get hired at the new WalMart that's opening in Reno at McCarren Boulevard and Seventh Street. It provides health insurance to employees after three months on the job.

Combined, the Flores' unemployment benefits only total about $300 a week and "they have their mortgage payment and their car payment," said the couple's daughter-in-law Maria Flores. She acted as translator this morning during an interview with the Spanish-speaking couple.

"They're not even sleeping right because of all the bills they have," Maria Flores said.

Manuel is running low on insulin and doesn't know how he'll pay for it.

And the Sundowner still hasn't paid Lydia for three weeks of vacation time she had coming, Maria Flores said.

A lot of other former Sundowner employees are in the same situation, Maria Flores said. The casino initially said it would close on Dec. 1 but then abruptly closed Saturday which didn't give employees time to plan or save any money, she said.

No comment was available from the Sundowner. No one answered the phone this morning.

Copyright © 2003 Daily Sparks Tribune
Used by permission.

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